Writing Portfolio


The Capital Ring: East Finchley to Hackney Wick (part 2)

Towards the end of the Parkland Walk, I encountered some more people who were neither jogging nor walking dogs; instead, these people were on a litter-picking trip, with a supervisor (self-appointed, I guessed) shouting at everyone else not to wander off.

The Parkland Walk ends at the footbridge over the East Coast Main Line, with Finsbury Park located on the other side. It was a lovely day for a walk in the park (this particular one having been one of the first public parks to be laid out by the Victorians) – whether people wanted to take the dog or the kids (or both) for a walk, feed the ducks (whose numbers, as well as the usual mallards, included pochards, I noticed – although the ducks were outnumbered by Canada geese and many black-headed gulls), sit on a bench in quiet contemplation, play football or even strum away on a guitar. The flowers (daffodils and crocuses) were out in bloom, and there were plenty of ground-feeding starlings as well. Another sign advised me that I had 2 miles to go to Clissold Park, although I could take a shortcut if I wanted to avoid some steps on the next stretch; I opted against that.


On the other side of Green Lanes (the plural, by the way, is deliberate because it used to be a drovers’ road that linked several villages), the Capital Ring took a turn for the seedy and run-down as it followed the course of the New River, an artificial waterway constructed in the early seventeenth century to provide fresh drinking water for London (it runs from Hertford to Islington, and there’s a New River Path that you can walk along for most of its length). The first thing I saw was a discarded computer monitor that someone had chucked in the river; further along I came across a chair, a submerged mattress and a floating mess of weeds and discarded rubbish brightened up by a few ducks, a couple of coots, a moorhen and a swan. To my left I had views of an industrial estate (and, beyond that, Alexandra Palace), while to my right stood the tower-blocks of Woodberry Down, the largest council estate in the country.

The New River twists and turns, running under the Seven Sisters Road (pedestrians must cross over) and then doubling back on itself as it passes two reservoirs, which according to my map are called East Reservoir and West Reservoir. These afforded some good views to the south, including a lovely juxtaposition of a church spire (later identified at St Mary’s, Stoke Newington) and the Shard. Closer by, I can across my first path blockage of the day – a construction site where the redevelopment of Woodberry Down is taking place.

Further along, I passed an empty-looking sailing-centre (why was it empty? It was a lovely day – surely someone must have wanted to go boating on the reservoir?) before re-emerging onto Green Lanes by The Castle – an old Victorian water-pumping station that became one of London’s biggest indoor climbing centres in the 1990s. I, though, was back walking along a main road for the first time since Highgate, although only for a few hundred yards until I came to Clissold Park.

This was teeming with life, much more so than Finsbury Park which it predates, having originally been the grounds of an eighteenth-century villa. More footballers, more families out for a walk, and more flowers. Both the children’s play area and the café – located, spectacularly, in the villa itself – were full of people. A good place in which to enjoy the sunshine of early March.

Out on the other side, I came up against the church I’d seen from the reservoir, and found out that there are actually two St Mary’s churches in Stoke Newington, one across the road from the other. The older of the two dates back to the sixteenth century, with the new one – the one with the big spire – having been built in the 1850s to deal with the rapid rise in the population (and, therefore, the congregation).

Further along Stoke Newington Church Street, I came across a pub named after Daniel Defoe, opposite a house with a blue plaque commemorating said author who lived in a house on that site (he also has a street and a garage named after him). The house bearing the plaque looked eighteenth-century to me, right down to the bricked-up windows which were so done by the owners in order to avoid having to pay window tax, although I could be wrong here as I’ve been told before now that some houses that were built after said tax was abolished were given the bricked-up window effect too, the idea being that it broke up an otherwise plain wall. 

Once again, the Capital Ring split into two alternative paths as the next part of the walk involved some steps. I duly went up the steps and entered the strange world that is the old, decaying and overgrown Victorian cemetery.

This was Abney Park, created in the 1840s as one of the so-called ‘Magnificent Seven’ large London cemeteries (the others are Brompton, Highgate, Kensal Green, Nunhead, West Norwood and Tower Hamlets). After nodded greetings to a trio of dog-walkers who’d congregated for a smoke by the last resting-place of William Booth, I passed on though, noting the plethora of overgrown plots and collapsed headstones (no wonder so many of these old cemeteries have been designated as nature reserves). A strange world, and a lost one too.

Back in the land of the living, I crossed Stamford Hill and, having thus completed section 12, I briefly toyed with the idea of calling it a day and going home by way of Stoke Newington Station. But I was on a roll and the sun was out, so instead (after noticing a Salvation Army charity shop and wondering if its position had anything to do with the grave of that organisation’s founder being so close by) I turned down the interestingly-named Cazenove Road and continued on my way.

Although I saw signs for a mosque and a Muslim community centre, the religion most on show on Cazenove Road was Judaism, and highly orthodox Judaism at that – the men in beards and circular fur hats, accompanied by their bewigged wives and ringletted boys; everyone decked out in their Saturday best.

Architecturally, this road ranged from the Victorian (this part of the street included the mosque) to the post-war, with big houses gradually giving way to blocks of flats, one named after Nelson Mandela (which briefly made me think of Only Fools and Horses), another an Art Deco pile called Hadley Court. Other buildings, by contrast, looked more down-at-heel.

I carried on, crossing the Upper Clapton Road and passing a large mock-Tudor house and another block of council flats (this one named after Keir Hardie), before entering Springfield Park. This one – like Clissold Park, once the grounds of a manor house – had a fountain on the duck-pond (which contained Egyptian geese), and after a quick pit-stop at the café (the former nineteenth-century manor house, naturally) I beheld a spectacular view out over Walthamstow Marshes.

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